I'm a huge believer in self teaching. After I left school I realized it was up to me to continue learning about photography and running a photography business. I scoured the internet for information and really looked towards other established photographers for advice. I learned when the best time to shoot portraits, how to talk to clients, the best ways to advertise on social media, and so much more. But one thing I learned, and that MANY MANY photographers believe in, is something I actually DON'T believe in myself. And it is,
"Only photograph "your" kind of clients."
What they mean by this is, photographers should only photograph clients they feel "work" for their brand or have the "look" they like. It has been going through the photography community that saying no is ok when you feel someone doesn't fit your look. While I see some points to this, I do not fully agree. That's because I've been on the other side of this, and it SUCKS.
When I was 17 I was looking for a photographer to do my senior portraits. I lived in a small town with not many options, so when I found someone I liked I got excited! My mom contacted the photographer and set a date! I looked forward to the day I would get my portraits done for weeks. Then, about a week before my session we realized we hadn't heard from the photographer in awhile. We had never set up a location or time so my mom contacted the photographer, no answer. We waited a few days assuming they were busy! Again we called and again no answer. I didn't know what to think, I was so excited for these pictures and now I wasn't getting them. As I told my friends what happened the gossip started trickling in that this photographer only liked to work with "pretty" girls, and had done this to numerous others. I was crushed. I do NOT know if this is true or not of this photographer. BUT whether that had been true or not, I was a 17 year old girl who's self esteem had become very low. Needless to say they never called back, we never head from them again, and I never got my senior portraits done by anyone else because I convinced myself I wasn't pretty enough. I still regret not getting them done to this day.
Fast forward a few years. My boyfriend and I are done with college, and he proposes! I was on the hunt for another photographer! I searched high and low to find someone with the style I wanted, I wanted my wedding pictures to be perfect! I FINALLY found someone I loved not to far from where we lived! I contacted them, they were available, and we started the booking process! I was ECSTATIC! I was FINALLY going to get pictures done! Then one day the photographer emailed me and said they had other possible obligations and didn't know if they would be available the day of our wedding anymore. I was bummed because I REALLY wanted this photographer, but accepted that they couldn't shoot our wedding. We were directed to a new photographer, started the booking process again, and 40 days before our wedding, for unforeseen reasons, our photographer had to cancel on shooting our wedding. I was so heartbroken, thinking I would never get professional portraits done, even on the day of our wedding. I went into high gear mode of finding a photographer. I emailed 18 photographers, only 3 got back to me, and those 3 said it was way to late of notice and couldn't help. As a photographer myself I decided to get creative. I mentor high school students that want to get into the photography industry, and I had just ended that years mentoring with an AMAZING young high school senior girl. She had mentored with me for the year, knows how I shoot and how I work, so I decided to take a chance on her. She did AMAZING, and let me edit the pictures she took, so my wedding portraits are a little more special to me now.
Even though it all worked out, on the day of our wedding numerous people told me the 1st photographer we wanted was shooting another wedding the day of ours...Now, I don't know the exact circumstances and details, BUT I got a weird twinge in my stomach and uncontrolled thoughts swarmed my head that this photographer just didn't want to shoot my wedding because it didn't fit their aesthetic, or I wasn't pretty enough just like the senior photographer from years ago. The entire day of my wedding I didn't feel I was pretty enough for any photographer, just like the one for my senior pictures. After 6 years I STILL was affected by those thoughts. I try to look it as just bad luck, but deep inside I still have that nagging feeling of not being good enough.
As photographers we do not realize how powerful we are. We are working with people in very raw and vulnerable states. They trust us to capture their beautiful side, even if they don't see it themselves. I get we want people who have our ideal look. Maybe you are a more traditional photographer and someone who is super artistic or charismatic may not be for your brand. Or maybe you are super into that really popular filmy and lifestyle look, and you turn people away who want more formal portraits. How you run your business is your business, but please take it from someone who has been on the other side. Let them know why you feel they are not a fit for you, and that it is not personal what so ever. If you feel they wouldn't be happy with the end results, let them know that! If they seem hesitant about choosing you or they ask you to make a bunch of changes feel free to say "hey, it seems our styles may not be a good fit. I would love to work with you! But I wouldn't want you to dislike your images." Being upfront about style clashes can really be beneficial in saving someone's self esteem.
It's taken me a few years to realize while yes, this is my business and I can do with it I want. I WANT to make people feel beautiful and special. That's my number one job.